|Deirdre Martin is making a name for herself writing about the love lives of hockey players and their intimate circle. I've enjoyed most of her work to date. Yet, it is not so much her skills as a romance writer as her funny and heart-warming descriptions of New York's thriving ethnic neighborhoods that make me go back for more. She returns to familiar territory in her latest. Just a Taste recounts the sweet and savory adventures of two cooks: Anthony Dante and Vivi Robitaille.
Anthony is head chef and part owner of Dante's, an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. He first came to life in Fair Play as the family-focused brother of Michael Dante, a star player for the New York Blades. Anthony lost his policewoman wife more than a year ago. At the beginning of Just a Taste, he has not quite finished mourning her. Then Vivi Robitaille arrives and begins to stir - and spice - things up.
If Vivi's name hints at a famous cartoon cook, the private life of a former French President must have inspired her backstory. (Who knows? Perhaps in years to come we will be seeing romances between French Presidents and Italian singer/models). She is the illegitimate daughter of a French politician who preferred to maintain two families rather than run the risk of public scandal. Her father is now dead, and his legitimate daughter, Vivi's half-sister Nathalie, has inherited the larger part of his fortune. Fleeing a scandal of her own, Nathalie is quite willing to help Vivi bring top-scale French cuisine to Brooklyn. They won't let the Italian place down the road stop them. It's a question of personal and national pride.
Vivi and Anthony have a highly competitive relationship. When they are not trying to out-do each other in the kitchen, they are outing each other's secret ingredients. Some of their exchanges are entertaining, but they do have a tendency to confuse bickering with bantering. I also found that an unnecessary wrench – or should it be ladle? – was thrown in to prolong their conflict.
The book's heart-warming comedy makes up for these short-comings. Once again, Martin excels in her light-hearted look at nosy neighbors, large, boisterous Italian families and healthy sibling rivalry. Michael has his subplot on how to find meaning in life as Mr. Mom, and his nine-year-old son makes a touching point that a real men is a cook, not a jock!. Some of the secondary characters, including Nathalie, verge on caricatures, but they remain true enough to life to draw laughter.
Vivi's French background provides another rich source of humor: English idioms really get her cow, um, goat (well, why should it be goat? Why not cow? Or pig? Or even cat?). These jokes reminded me of the richness of the English language and made me sympathize with those who have to struggle with it. More importantly, the descriptions of festivities and food make an excellent point about an old English saying: love will find a way – even in, and to, the kitchen!